The Pakoda-Frying Feminist

It’s okay to not question whether every move we make furthers the cause of women worldwide, says Deepa Bhasthi.

A high handed, moody, often fussy and illogical a chronicler, this memory is. What you should want to forget only ever resurges, over and over again, your attempt to forget mocked by the opposite of what you wish for. If memory serves me right, it was an evening in October last when we were all recovering from a rather successful party. There were the greasy remnants of dinner and drink to scrub clean and table runners to set straight. By the time that was done, it was evening and the boys were ready for a slower, more inner-circle-only after-party. I made onion pakodas, my first time, to go with the leftover whisky and vodka. I have this vivid picture in my mind now, of standing there in the kitchen, frying up the pakodas while just outside, three men stood, sat around swirling chunks of ice in their yellow drinks and talking of real estate, old histories and such like. I remember it had felt oddly—what’s that word I cannot find now—right. The ‘feminists’ would be horrified.


Then there was another time, a few months before when the same set found ourselves in another kitchen in another town. Freshly caught fish was dipped in bright turmeric and a fiery chilly powder sat on the counter marinating. The crickets cooed outside and I leaned back against the cool wall, watching the three rib each other while they cooked biriyani for themselves and some vegetables for me. Dinner was on a pretty little table. I had opened the window that overlooked a large yard glowing in the aftermath of a summer rain. This picture too felt right.

Memory serves up many instances, varied dinners in our lives when I cooked or he did or we all did. We do not define our roles depending on what our bodies look like. But even as I write this, I realise I speak from a very privileged position. Let this be an article about privilege then, for the privileged too make up who we are—it’s not just the ones on the other side of the table.

Memory serves up many instances, varied dinners in our lives when I cooked or he did or we all did. We do not define our roles depending on what our bodies look like.

I watched the documentary India’s Daughter right after it was banned and like most women, was horrified by the statements the lawyers were making. This has been said several times before: the only thing these lawyers did was to vocalise what a disturbing majority of men in this country (and elsewhere?) think. But we were going to talk about the privileged. My dad cannot cook—at best he can make rice and pour fat dosas into a pan—but he did not believe that mother had to line up a five-course meal every evening, just because. Neither did a number of uncles, cousins, boyfriends, male friends over the years. Well, full disclosure? There were a few misogynists along the way, including female, but those are in the memory of the past, a dent in an otherwise polished shield.

 

Privilege comes in many colours. There is rose tinted, there is the slight pinkish and then the full white, blinding, high altar-ed one. Unless slapped in the face with statements like those of the chauvinistic lawyers in the still-banned documentary, it is easy to cloak yourself in the warm feeling that comes free with a world that respects you in spite of your gender.

In this privileged world we don’t practice gender-defined roles. I am a lot like the girl in the ‘Ek Buri Ladki’ poster. I cannot make round rotis. I can, and do, cook well otherwise though. The rotis are made by one of the boys. Few girls in our group can make round rotis; buri ladkis seem to stick together. We are almost uniformly better than the guys with technology, computers and gadgets. I pay everyone’s bills for them online, sort out their taxes, that sort of thing. Most times, we don’t stop and notice that strictly speaking, it is not in our respective genetic makeup to do or not do what we do. Subtle feminism is feminism too.

Mother did not teach me to cook, not for lack of trying, of course. She got me to read, sewed my broken buttons back and made me breakfast this morning so I could write. A homemaker, she is fiercely protective about her me-time—her beloved dogs aren’t allowed in either. She will have food ready when it’s time to eat. It’s usually a chore she wants to get over with, but never has she cooked without love, or at least amicability: the most important ingredients, she taught me. Doing household chores is feminism too.

“Women are always told to try and put themselves first in a relationship,” I remember reading somewhere. “Men are never advised this because they don’t need to be told what is natural for them.”

Funny how the mind works. The other day I fussed about what the partner was eating. Enough greens? Too much red? Too much tipple? Like the way I have seen all the women in my life do, everywhere. I confess, I do enjoy housework, immensely. It is a great workout and gives me the time to brew work ideas while getting other work done. Humans were built to be physically active and don’t we know, nothing gets the creativity flowing as much as a good round of doing the dishes. Oh well, lofty excuses apart, it does feel good to keep a clean, pretty house. Why should that make anyone un-feminist? Clean, pretty houses and making a partner a good meal is also feminism.

Like any world ideal, feminism isn’t just one thing. Even from the privileged position I speak from—and feel guiltily obliged to keep apologising for here—I know it is so much more complicated than black and white. It is all shades of grey and the other colours of the spectrum. There are overlapping areas, unsure times when you can’t be definite of your stand. That’s ok, I tell myself. We women expect a lot more from ourselves. We should; we’ve never exactly had it easy. But sometimes it is okay to cut ourselves some slack and not question every move we make to see if it hinders or progresses womanhood in the world. It is okay to be a concerned spouse, a worrying mother. It is okay to be a “bitch” too, if being one means you are the sorts that puts your happiness and peace of mind above everyone else’s.

“Women are always told to try and put themselves first in a relationship,” I remember reading somewhere. “Men are never advised this because they don’t need to be told what is natural for them.” It’s a generalisation, of course. Or maybe not.

Being a bitch is feminism too.

​Deepa Bhasthi ​was recently introduced to someone as a hippie. In other descriptions, she has been a journalist​, translator​​ and worked in the development sector briefly. ​She is now a full time writer living and working in Bengaluru. ​Her works have appeared in several publications including Himal Southasian, Indian Quarterly, The New Indian Express, OPEN magazine, The Hindu Business Line's BLInk, The Hindu, Art India and elsewhere on the web. ​She is the editor of The Forager magazine, an online quarterly journal of food politics, available at www.theforagermagazine.com​ Through her column 'Filter Coffee', she will take you through the states that lie below the mighty Vindhyas; tell stories from that land, of those people. This column will carry features, interviews, commentary, travelogues and much more, everything infused with a healthy dose of South Indian flavour.

2 Comments

  • Reply July 19, 2015

    Neha Jha

    Beautiful!
    so very poignant! I hadn’t thought about feminism this way ever. In this over-active maze of women empowerment and the all-time confusing aspects of feminism, young, immature girls like me, forget that being a woman or a man is less of a concern, our fight is to be treated like a human first. And, in that phase, doing what we feel like for us or for people around us is not to be questioned at every point. After all, whether men or women, everybody makes sacrifices.

  • […] in the office. You can do whatever you want. And I think that’s what women everywhere need and women particularly in India need – is to be given choices, to be given some options and to be given enough education so […]

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